The room

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The glow emanating from the chamber floor cast a halo, a constantly moving iridescent pool of light that delicately caressed her hair. Her mother always told her how lucky she was to have these wonderful tresses. They attracted the attention and commentary of numerous great-aunts, acquaintances and quite a few busy bodies because of their incredible color.

There were so many times when she wished her hair was inconspicuous so that people would see her instead of her unusual locks, but she couldn’t deny the feeling that she was given a gift, like a little beggar who had her cupped palms filled with sunlight.

She cherished this gift and rarely cut the tresses that inspired her name, just enough to ensure that their shine didn’t get dulled by split ends. In the penumbra of the chamber, with the halo reflecting off the candle flame hair she looked very much like an angel.

“Enter”, a voice from nowhere beckoned, a soft voice, almost apologetic. Tressa moved forward quietly and her long skirt simply slid over the floor without fluttering, like that of a Georgian folk dancer.

The glow inside the chamber was coming from an unapparent source, with just enough illumination to guide her way forward. She touched the stone jamb and a luminous dust stained her right palm, turning it into an impromptu lighting device for her passage. On the other side of the doorway a very similar room was revealed to her, a mirror image of the chamber she had emerged from.

There was one difference she noticed immediately: the iridescent glow surrounding her hair grew larger and more intense and she could see vague images changing shape inside it, as if an unknown being was playing shadow puppets on a waterfall.

She sat in the chair in the middle of the room and gazed at her surroundings. There was no sound, not even the random thump of settling structure or creaking furniture. The room was suddenly quiet.

“Are you still here?” she muttered, afraid that the answer won’t come. A long pause quickened her breath and made her heart beat so fast she could feel it tightening her throat.

What if it didn’t answer? she thought, absolutely terrified. What if she couldn’t go back? What if she will never be able to get out of this room? There was no assurance that if she went through the doorway one hundred and four times the one hundred and fifth time the doorway will not be impenetrable. She summoned all the emotional control that she was capable of to stay seated in the chair and keep calm. Slowly her breath regained its normal rhythm.

“Yes”, the answer came, matter of fact, with no intention to soothe or cajole.

She didn’t know how to react to this being that didn’t seem to experience her emotions or excuse her lapses in knowledge. It didn’t seem hostile, but not particularly accommodating either. Tressa was neither a gregarious nor an easily offended person, so it wasn’t the directness and unemotional aspect of the conversation that bothered her. It was her desire for predictable and measurable outcomes that made this type of interaction unsettling: she just didn’t know what to expect from one minute to the next.

In addition to that, being in a room with nothing to do was something she wasn’t accustomed to. Come to think of it, she couldn’t remember ever doing nothing before. Her entire life had been a scheduled and planned sequence of goals and directions that she worked very hard to achieve. Her ambition carried her forward through hardships, rejections and challenges, right to the point where this opportunity was presented to her.

At the time she had very clear expectations about what the opportunity was going to be like, much on the lines of her previous experiences, but infinitely more challenging, like climbing the Himalayas: very few attempt the journey, fewer still succeed in completing it, so when she was called to stand up and follow the guide without packing as much as a toothbrush, she thought she was the target of a practical joke. It took the guide’s stark assurance to convince her that these indeed were the requirements.

That’s how she found herself in this chamber, dressed in the summer dress she happened to wear that day, with the very long skirt that made her friends tease her and an old pair of roman sandals on her feet. Another person might have been scared out of her wits, but after her initial adjustment Tressa recovered her logical reasoning and decided to learn as much as possible about what made the chamber tick. Apparently it was designed to interact with her moods, movements and thoughts. That’s why Tressa had developed the strange Georgian dance moves, to avoid bouncing over-reactions from her environment. These were more annoying than dangerous, she figured quickly, but ran so intense they made her disoriented and nauseous, so she tried to avoid triggering them.

Everything in the room that was not solid seemed to emerge from nowhere: the sounds, the light, the temperature changes didn’t have a source point. The furniture, on the other hand, was the most common type possible, some pieces she could remember seeing at discount department stores. All but the chair she sat in, she realized: the chair was different. She was seated right in front of the doorway and she could see very clearly that the equivalent chair in the other room didn’t respect the mirror image rule.

She glanced furtively at the arm rest under her elbow.

“Different, isn’t it?” it asked. It highly annoyed Tressa that this entity, whatever it was, didn’t make any beans about reading her mind and telling her about it, and even though she admired its superior abilities, she hoped that just once it would make the effort to research human customs and find courtesy.

“Yes, it is. Why?”

“Why do you think?” it asked.

It is funny how adaptable human beings are! After only two days of talking to thin air about her most private thoughts, thoughts that she didn’t want to share in the first place, instead of being terrified Tressa managed to create a relationship with it and even start a squabble. She was irritated by the psychoanalysis and attempted to get up from the chair.

“Why do you think?” she parroted sarcastically, but sat back down swiftly when she saw the wall on her right buckle violently in reaction to her anger. She cursed in all the languages she knew, inside her head, of course, for once being grateful that the irritating perpetrator could read her thoughts. Then she took a deep breath and went to a  happy place in her mind to calm down. The wall bounced back and forth a few times, then stopped.

She thought it was strange that there wasn’t an equivalent her staring back from the room beyond.

“That’s why,” it said, in a distracted voice. Tressa had the uncomfortable feeling that she was really boring it with questions that it expected her to already have answered. She didn’t know if it even liked her, or if this entity could understand the concept of “liking”, but she didn’t feel threatened or constrained in any way. At some point in the beginning of this experience she tried to make a run for the door and besides the very violent waves she imparted to her environment through this action there was no physical barrier to her leaving the place.

“Don’t run. You can leave any time you wish. Slower is better.” Curiosity got the best of Tressa and she wouldn’t dream of leaving for anything! How many people in this world got to experience something like this in their lifetime? She just wished she understood better what “this” was and how to tame the room’s violent reactions to the most absurd of her thoughts and moods. Once she almost got squashed by the ceiling for associating the taste of her tea with memories of a babysitter she didn’t like when she was four.

There were a few things she managed to control, and she was both happy and proud to have mastered them, for instance once she started humming a tune and the whole room harmonized with a hundred instrument orchestra and a grand piano solo.

A gentle glow touched her hair and set it alight again, bringing out the candle flame radiance, and Tressa couldn’t help think that maybe it liked her after all, if not her, at least her hair.

“It is an unusual color” it replied casually.

“Can you maybe pretend that you can’t hear everything I think?”

“What would be the point?”

One of the first questions Tressa asked in the beginning was about the nature of it, whether it was vegetal, animal or mineral but strange as it may seem, it was absolutely impossible to get a straight answer from the know-it-all. Tressa had a feeling that it didn’t know either and it neither confirmed nor denied her assumption.

Something that disconcerted her was that she couldn’t figure out how this extraordinary experience she was chosen for, experience so far removed from any expectation of normality, could be applied to life as we know it, or if she ever decided to leave could she readjust to non-bending walls and having to actually voice her thoughts.

She was a little hungry and she had a craving for cherries. She lifted her eyes and noticed a bowl full of them on the credenza next to the doorway. She couldn’t see through the wall, but she assumed that on the other side, on the other credenza, there was a mirror image of the bowl of cherries.

She got up slowly, careful not to lose her balance on the bouncy floor and as she picked up the bowl she thought that it was probably the best friend she ever had. The cherries were very flavorful. She set the bowl on the desk next to the credenza and turned her back to it, knowing for a fact that the bowl will not be there the next time she looked.

“So, what are you?”

“What do you think I am?” asked it, just as expected. One can’t begin to express Tressa’s relief in finding some reliable and repeatable cause-effect pairing in this odd environment. She knew she wasn’t going to get an answer anyway.

Lost in thought she kept wrapping a luminous strand of hair around her finger, and as she pulled on it, it kept stretching. She didn’t even notice as she was walking around the room that the little fiery lock of hair drew intricate flourish and writings on the floor, in something that looked like a very old language. The floor glowed a brighter blue to create contrast for the golden light patterns.

Tressa simply forgot that this room was crazy by any human standards and got absolutely mesmerized by its miraculous ever changing patterns. It would have taken a person a lifetime to create even one of these intricate designs that changed at an ever faster rate as Tressa’s ability to process them progressed. During moments like these she stopped thinking about safety, about how to integrate this experience into her life, whether anyone would ever believe her if she described it, and just let it take her to all these places in her mind that she could never have created for herself.

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